Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the creation and property of Joanne K. Seward and is copyright (c) 1995 by Joanne K. Seward. Originally published in Tantalus #8, edited by Ann Zewen.

The Voice of Time

Joanne K. Seward

Captain James T. Kirk paused, waiting out the post beam-down collywobbles. His Vulcan first officer stood at his right shoulder, unblinking, in the glare of Stenos' midday sun.

To his other side, Kirk's senior medical officer patted his slender middle as though to ascertain he'd arrived in one piece. His examination was accompanied by a low-pitched, grumbling monologue.

Both behaviors were perfectly in character.

"Captain Kirk?"

His attention diverted from the foibles of his officers, Kirk looked up. His eyes lit with appreciation as the speaker, a slender, dark-haired woman in wrinkled lightweight fatigues, emerged from the shade of a prefab dome and crossed the sand.

She extended her hand. "Meredith Bennings, Captain. Am I ever glad to see you!"

Amusement joined other emotions as Kirk accepted the proffered hand. "Pleased to meet you, too, Doctor Bennings. This is my first officer--"

"Mister Spock," said Bennings. She inclined her head in the Vulcan's direction. "And this must be Doctor McCoy."

Kirk gave a single nod. "That's correct."

Bennings pushed a sweat-dampened curl out of her face to reveal laughing green eyes. "The entire galaxy knows they never leave your side, Captain."

Kirk smiled wryly. "I see."

"I can't tell you how happy I am that Starfleet sent you," Bennings continued as she led them toward the dome. "With the restrictions set by the Stenosians, we can definitely use some help, and the Enterprise Archeology and Anthropology team is reputed to be the best there is."

"Precisely what are the restrictions, Doctor?" Spock inquired.

Meredith Bennings grimaced. "We're not allowed to use anything that even hints of modern technology. No tricorders, no scanners, no mechanized digging equipment of any sort." With a little shrug, she added, "You can imagine how far behind we are."

McCoy's eyebrows rose. "I thought the Stenosians requested this excavation."

"They did, Doctor, but there are religious strictures to be dealt with. The conservative religious leaders fear modern instruments will disturb those who have gone to the 'world beyond the world.'"

"Most illogical," Spock commented. "Working blind, as it were, you are likely to cause damage that could easily be avoided."

Bennings paused to gaze at the Vulcan. "Try telling that to the Stenosians, Mister Spock. They're adamant about this."

"Well," Kirk said philosophically, "with help from the Enterprise A&A department, you should be able to progress much more quickly."

Bennings stepped over the high threshold, designed to keep the sand out of the dome. "Thank you. But it's not just archeologists and anthropologists we need." Green eyes meeting hazel ones, she said: "Anyone who can handle a shovel or a brush is more than welcome, Captain. We can use every pair of hands we can get."

A crooked smile blossomed and grew, transforming Kirk's smoothly handsome features into something quite irresistible. "In that case, Doctor, consider me yours."

Transfixed, Bennings replied, "Why, thank you, Captain. I think I will."

* * *

"The ancient Stenosian burials are fascinating in themselves, of course, but comparative xeno-archeologists and anthropologists find them particularly intriguing due to their resemblance to ancient Egyptian burials on Earth. There are those who believe the Preservers seeded both worlds."

Doctor Bennings' voice drifted back as they traveled through the earth and stone corridors of the burial complex.

"The Egyptians built above the ground; the Stenosians below the surface," Spock commented. He bent low to pass under a lintel constructed for people only half his height.

"What's the matter, Spock? Is having to duck every two meters getting to you?"

Spock ignored McCoy's taunt.

Eyes dancing, Bennings did the same. "A statement at once obvious and profound, Mister Spock."

"But the pyramidal shape is the same," Kirk said, stifling a sneeze. The air in the tomb was musty, rich with the smells of dust and decay. A cool draft wafted past, carrying with it the scent of damp earth.

"Essentially correct, Captain," Spock said. "The Stenosians however, inverted the pyramid."

"A fascinating case of similarity and diversity," Bennings said.

"It'd be a heck of a lot more fascinating if we could see where we're going," McCoy grumbled.

"Hang on, Doctor," Bennings replied, her tone light. "We're almost there."

"I don't see why we can't use flashlights instead of these antiquated torches," McCoy retorted. A fleck of burning material floated down from one of the torches to land on his wrist. He flinched and rubbed at the tender spot.

"Neither do I, Doctor, but..." Bennings sighed and led them through another low doorway into a rectangular chamber. The glare of a number of the maligned torches dazzled their eyes.

"You can easily spot the differences between this chamber and the others I've shown you," she said, falling back into her lecturer's pose. "Stenosian burials followed a strict hierarchy. The greater your influence in life, the further down you were placed in the tombs. Unfortunately, periodic flooding destroyed many of the deepest sites."

Placing her torch in a holder fashioned millennia earlier, Bennings gestured to an elaborate sarcophagus resting on a stone dais.

"This is the most important burial we've excavated so far. We think her name was Eno-Aj. Fifth dynasty, most likely. We suspect she was a member of the royal family. Not in the direct line to the throne, though. More likely she was a sort of ancient Stenosian maid of honor..."

Curious, Kirk climbed the steps of the dais. There were actually two sarcophagi, one nested within the other. The heavy lids had been removed and were leaning against the far wall. The body was wrapped much the way the Egyptians had wrapped their dead, though he fancied there was some difference in the actual method. A gilded mask ornamented with rough-cut jewels layover the face and shoulders. A wreath woven of hundreds of tiny flowers adorned the neck. Kirk stared down at it.

"Someone loved her very much," he said softly.

"What makes you think that?" McCoy asked, his voice sounding oddly loud in this place of death.

"Look at that neckpiece, Bones. Hundreds, thousands of years later and you can still sey how much work it entailed."

Bennings came to stand alongside Kirk and the doctor. "It's called a boak-ej, Captain. It was usually made by the lover or spouse of the deceased. According to tradition, it had to be completed before the flowers wilted. Most boak-ejs aren't as elaborate as this one. Amazing, isn't it? All this time and you can still tell they were purple. "

Kirk's gaze lingered on the long-dead flowers a moment more before traveling upward onse again to the mask. "Her name was Eni-Tsuj. She was a royal princess. The flowers were blue... "

Bennings inhaled sharply. "Captain--"

"Come on, Jim," McCoy chided. "Since when are you an authority on,Stenosian royalty?"

"I'm not," Kirk replied in an abstracted voice. "I just know. it."

"It would seem unlikely," Spock interjected. "As Doctor Bennings has said, it is a documented fact that the person of highest rank was placed at the deepest point of the inverted pyramid."

Kirk shrugged and smiled, his mood changing with lightning swiftness. "Well, I'm going to think of her as Eni-Tsuj, if it's okay with you, Mister Spock."

Spock's eyebrow rose ever so slightly. "Of course, Captain."

* * *

Kirk's eyes went from the doctor seated opposite him to the Vulcan standing near the door of his quarters. Something was on McCoy's mind; he suspected he didn't want to know what it was. He turned his attention to Spock's problem instead.

"Surely tomorrow is soon enough to start working on this computer glitch of yours, Spock. You said it's not very important. Why don't you sit down and ha--" He glanced ruefully at the glass of Saurian brandy near his hand and rerouted his question. "That is, why don't you sit and talk for a while."

The Vulcan shook his head, "I prefer to begin work as soon as possible, Jim. Though unimportant now, uncorrected, the 'glitch' as you call it could cause problems later."

Kirk nodded. "Very well. I'll talk to you in the morning before I beam down to Stenos."

"Of course," Spock responded, "Good night, Captain." He nodded in the CMO's direction. "Doctor McCoy. "

"Good night, Spock," Kirk replied.

"'Night," McCoy echoed as the door whispered shut behind the Vulcan. He picked up his brandy, savoring the color and aroma for a long moment before saying, "Uh, Jim. Mind telling me what you were talking about down there today?"

"What do you mean, Bones?"

"That stuff about the mummy being named Any-such and it being a royal princess and all," McCoy explained.

"Eni-Tsuj," Kirk corrected.

"Whatever," McCoy agreed. "One minute you're a tourist like the rest of us; the next you're telling one of the Federation's foremost experts in xeno-archeology the name of her prize mummy. If that weren't enough, you start going on about how someone loved Enit-whatever very much. Like she was your next door neighbor or something. Then when you're asked how you know ... you just say 'I know,' as though that were the end of the discus--"

Kirk decided he'd better interrupt before McCoy really got going. "I can't explain, Bones. I just felt it..."

"Hmmph," McCoy grunted. "If you're gonna go all mystical on me... Bad enough I have to put up with Spock and his mental shenanigans--" He took a healthy mouthful of the brandy and swallowed. Tears filled his eyes. "Jim!"

Kirk grinned. "Good, huh?"

* * *

Kirk's dreams that night were peopled by Stenosian women dressed in gossamer gowns, colorful beads ornamenting intricate golden plaits and men with brawny, muscled chests, their hair bleached to a silvery hue by Stenos' fierce sun. He wandered their world, loincloth wrapped about his hips, giving orders and receiving their obeisance, carrying out the commands of Eni-Tsuj, his princess and mate.

* * *

"I'm sorry you won't be joining us on Stenos, Spock." Kirk nodded, acknowledging the transporter tech's, "Good morning, sir," without missing a beat. "...I know you were looking forward to it."

"That is correct, Captain. However--"

Kirk finished the statement for him. "If this isn't corrected now, it could cause problems later."

Speaking softly, Spock allowed his captain to view the slightest dent in his Vulcan armor. "Indeed. You would not appreciate it were the computers to become overly affectionate..."

"I would not." Kirk smiled at the memory Spock's words dredged up. "I promise to do enough digging to satisfy both of us."

"Illogi--"

The doors to the transporter room slid apart to reveal McCoy. The doctor was dressed in 'fleet issue shorts and shirt, tropical weight. An old-fashioned pith helmet added the finishing touch.

Spock's brow rose. Kirk's eyes grew wide. The transporter tech, tearing his gaze from pale and bony knees, locked his attention fervently on the controls before him.

"Guess I'm about ready to have my atoms scrambled," McCoy announced, oblivious to the effect he was having on the room's occupants.

"I didn't know you were beaming down, Bones."

"I thought I might as well." McCoy adjusted the medi-kit he wore at his hip. "Doctor Bennings said they'd excavated some stuff she thought might be medical equipment. I'm anxious to have a look at it."

"In that case..." Kirk shrugged and stepped onto the transporter pad. A sympathetic smile tugged at his lips as his eyes met those of the transporter technician. "Energize, Mister Michaels."

* * *

The electronic fireflies of the transporter effect were still fluttering about Kirk and McCoy when Doctor Bennings rushed toward them, clutching a sheaf of handwritten notes. "Captain Kirk." She raised a distracted hand in McCoy's direction. "Captain!"

Kirk's mouth curled into a grin at the sight of her excitement-filled green eyes and flushed cheeks. "Doctor," he murmured.

"I've been doing some research," Bennings said, the words tumbling from her lips. "There was a royal princess named Eni-Tsuj. She lived a little over two thousand years ago, standard reckoning. It was a time of great unrest for Stenos. Eni-Tsuj and her cohsort, E'jm were killed in an attempted rebel take-over. Their bodies were buried secretly to hamper rebel attempts to defile the tombs and 'prevent their successful journey to the world beyond the world.'"

Kirk knew without doubt that the wording was a direct quote from one of the ancient histories Bennings had shown them the previous day.

"Eno-Aj is also believed to have died in the coup attempt," she continued. "In the confusion, it would have been the simplest thing to bury Eni-Tsuj in the grave intended for Eno-Aj. What I can't figure out, is how you knew..."

Kirk did his best to ignore the combined stares of the archeologist and his chief medical officer. "I can't explain it. I just --" He gave a slight shrug and repeated the answer he'd given the night before. "--felt it."

"Well, if you get any more feelings, Captain, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know. If that mummy is Eni-Tsuj, E'jm must be somewhere nearby. I wouldn't want to mistakenly catalog him as the local sandal-maker." Bennings sighed. "In the meantime, I have to get this information to the rest of the team, let them know what we could be dealing with here."

She motioned to a young man who'd been standing at her side, invisible in the wake of her enthusiasm. "If you're serious about joining us, Doctor Howell will show you and Doctor McCoy around, get you started. "

"Of course," Kirk said. "Thank you." He pretended he didn't hear McCoy's softly uttered, "Jim..."

* * *

Kirk spent the morning in the small dome the archeologists used for lab and office space. Obediently, he followed a young man with owl eyes and a prematurely bald pate, learning to use fine brushes and delicate picks to remove encrusted soil from various artifacts. He assisted the records' supervisor in taking holographic images (acceptable if no images were made of Stenosian remains) of bits and pieces of various artifacts. He handed over this or that shard to a young woman who was piecing together an urn that looked like a pottery version of the five thousand piece puzzles he'd worked as a teen.

Lunch time arrived, and most of the resident team returned to the air-conditioned primary dome that served as their living quarters for their meal. Several members of the Enterprise A&A department accompanied them, while a few others requested beam-ups; eager to consult the ship's library computer.

Unaccustomed to the high heat, Kirk didn't feel the least bit/hungry when he joined McCoy and the "dig doctor" at a long table in the residential dome. He picked at a chicken sandwich and listened with one ear as the two medical men discussed ancient Stenosian medical implements. What little appetite he had quickly fled when conversation turned to trepanning, bloodletting and the evisceration of corpses for embalming.

Pushing back his chair, Kirk excused himself and went outside. If possible, it was even hotter than the day before. Nothing stirred. The morning's slight breeze had died to a dead calm. The sun-baked soil that had once supported a thriving society lay dusty and still beneath his feet.

Kirk wandered into the tomb. It was cooler here. He swiped at his forehead with his sleeve, glad he'd taken Bennings advice and dressed in the lightweight clothing favored by the Archeology and Anthropology department.

Following the path the archeologist had shown them the previous day, he descended the rough stone steps and stepped through a doorway. He could sense the stone lintel just centimeters above his head, and he smiled. For once he didn't grudge Spock his extra height.

He stepped into the burial chamber and ascended the dais. Once again his eyes riveted on the placid features of Eni-Tsuj's death mask. A sense of peace and serenity surrounded him.

He was still standing there twenty minutes later when McCoy came looking for him. "She was so very beautiful," Kirk said.

"Well, now," McCoy drawled, "I don't know about that. She looks just like all the others Doctor Bennings has shown us. That mask is probably the standard model. Can't even tell if it's a man or a woman without checking the position of the hands... "

"So very beautiful," Kirk repeated, not looking at the doctor.

* * *

"E'jm."

Kirk stared up at the woman next to his bed. "Eni-Tsuj."

"E'jm," she repeated. She released a jeweled clasp at her shoulder and the delicate gown she wore fluttered to the deck. She settled herself in the curve of his body. "More days than I can count have I waited to return to your arms."

Kirk knew he was dreaming, knew he was in his bunk on the Enterprise, but the sensations were so real, he found himself reaching out and touching the golden hair of the woman curled against him.

"Too much time has passed since I have felt your flesh, " she murmured, turning to face him. "Join with me, my consort."

"Eni-Tsuj," Kirk said again, fighting to sort reality from the dream. His body, unfettered by such considerations, responded eagerly to her touch.

"Join with me," she commanded.

"Eni-Tsuj..." he groaned.

* * *

"You feelin' okay, Jim?"

"What?"

"I asked if you were feeling okay," McCoy said. "You look a bit peaked."

"I'm fine," Kirk replied shortly.

"Don't look it," McCoy informed him. "Maybe you should stay on the ship today. That oven they call a planet could be gettin' to you."

"I'm fine," Kirk reiterated. He stepped onto the transporter platform. "Are you coming?"

McCoy positioned himself on the disk next to Kirk. "I'm going, Jim, but I still say maybe you should take a rest. "

"Energize," Kirk ordered. He was still fighting annoyance as the transporter beam turned him into a scintillating column of light.

Again, Bennings was waiting for them when they materialized, "I have some interesting news for you, gentlemen. Doctor Goodwilly thinks you might be correct about the identification of the mummy. He wants to unwrap her, do a complete autopsy."

Kirk's face turned a shade paler. "No!"

McCoy stared at him.

"Why not?" Bennings asked. "The Stenosians requested it."

"It's against the religious strictures," Kirk said. "You said it yourself: It would hamper Eni-Tsuj's journey with her consort to the 'world beyond the world.'''

Bennings shook her head. "Captain, this isn't Vulcan. Last week the Stenosians forbade us the use of any modern technology. This week they're asking us to autopsy the corpse. I'm not going to let an opportunity to gather information slip through my fingers just because I don't understand their reasoning. "

Kirk gripped her arm. "Doctor--"

"Captain, you're hurting me!"

"Jim--" McCoy began, but Kirk had already released Bennings.

"I'm sorry, Doctor. I don't know how to explain it, but I know it would be wrong to let the autopsy take place."

"You'll have to do better than that, Captain, if you want to prevent it. We have one of the foremost forensic anthropologists on staff, and he's not going to listen to some sort of mystical drivel." Bennings stared at him a moment longer, as though studying an artifact like none she'd ever seen, then she turned on her heel and walked toward the dome.

"Jim--"

Kirk shrugged off McCoy's restraining hand. "Not now, Bones."

"Jim!"

The captain paid no attention as he strode off in the opposite direction.

"Aw, hell," McCoy muttered.

* * *

Kirk stared at the mummy, the wretched remains of a woman who had loved and been loved. I must be losing my mind. But last night, in the darkness of his quarters, she had seemed so real, so alive.

Thinking about her, he could again see the meticulously woven wrap drop to the floor, feel the silken texture of her skin against his, smell the herbal rinse she used on her hair. And thinking about her, Kirk knew she hadn't been a dream. If it wasn't a dream... Again he thought, I must be losing my mind.

"EJm."

Kirk started. Peering into the corners of the tomb, he searched for the source of the voice."Come, E'Jm. It is time for us to be together forever."

As though a puppet dancing at the end of its strings, Kirk felt himself responding to that commanding yet loving voice. He walked to a dark corner of the tomb, knowing where he must go, but not why. In that same disconnected state he picked up a mallet and chisel and began chipping at the wall.

* * *

Leonard McCoy stepped onto the bridge and looked around. Telltales flashed; computers murmured and bleeped, talking among themselves.

Uhura smiled from the comm console, her dusky features welcoming him. Quietly, McCoy

acknowledged the greeting before moving to the science station.

"Buy you lunch, Spock?"

The first officer glanced up, multi-colored ret1ections from the readouts dancing off his sleek ebony hair. "It is my custom, Doctor, to skip the mid-day meal."

"Mmph," McCoy grunted. "How about making today an exception?"

One narrow eyebrow crept upward, giving the Vulcan a pixy-ish air. He surveyed McCoy for a long moment. "Very well." To Uhura he said, "The doctor and I will be in recreation, Lieutenant."

The two men were silent as they waited for the turbolift. Finally the car arrived and they stepped in. Spock grasped the control handle. "Recreation room one." He turned to McCoy, one brow still slightly raised. "Well, Doctor?"

McCoy bobbed up on his toes, wondering how to phrase his question. "Uh, Spock, have you, um, seen much of Jim in the last few days?"

"I have not." The 'lift slowed as it switched into a horizontal shaft. "The Captain has spent much of his time on Stenos. I believe you yourself suggested he do so to 'make-up' for the leave he missed on Wrigley's."

"Yeah," McCoy replied as the lift came to a halt. Side by side, he and the first officer traversed the short corridor to the mess hall.

"Doctor?"

"What? Oh, right." McCoy busied himself gathering cup and saucer, filling the cup with the sludgy liquid labelled "coffee" by the Enterprise beverage dispensers. "Let's sit over there."

Spock's eyebrow went up again but he said nothing until they were seated at the isolated table McCoy had indicated. "Is something wrong?"

McCoy responded with a question of his own. "How does Jim seem to you?"

"As I pointed out, I have not spent a great deal of time with the captain in the last few days. However, from what I have seen, he appears distracted. His attention wanders. He smiles when there is no apparent reason to do so." Spock cleared his throat. "The evidence would seem to indicate he has become 'involved.'"

McCoy's blue gaze flew from the coffee he'd been contemplating to Spock's dark eyes. "I once told Jim he'd make a fair psychologist, Mister Spock. It seems he isn't the only one."

Spock's angular features relaxed into the expression those close to him thought of as an almost-smile.

"Having met Doctor Bennings, the conclusion was easily arrived at."

"If it were only that easy," McCoy answered.

"I see no difficulty. Even if Jim's attachment were to another member of the archeological expedition, they are all beyond the age of consent--"

McCoy wrapped his hands around the coffee cup. "This one's really beyond the age of consent, Spock. She's old enough to be his -- well, however many' greats' you suppose you can fit in a couple of thousand years."

"I do not understand," Spock said flatly.

"Remember that first day when Doctor Bennings showed us around the dig?" McCoy barely waited for the Vulcan's confirming nod before continuing. "Jim insisted the mummy was a princess, said her name was Eni-Tsuj."

"I remember," Spock replied.

"He's obsessed with her. Every chance he gets, he stands there staring at that damned mummy." McCoy's forehead beetled, the ever-present circles under his eyes seemed to grow darker. "And he's not sleeping well. I know the signs."

A faint frown crossed the Vulcan's face then was gone. "McCoy, we both know the captain has a romantic streak. We also know he is mentally stable. What you are saying is--"

"You haven't heard the worst of it," McCoy exclaimed. "This morning Jim came right out and told Doctor Bennings she couldn't autopsy the mummy. He quoted some claptrap about hampering Eni-Tsuj's journey to the afterlife."

"The 'world beyond the world,'" Spock quoted.

"Whatever!" McCoy glared at him. "What I'm saying in not so many words is he seems to have taken leave of his senses!"

Around the room a number of heads popped up at McCoy's hissed words.

"Doctor, your voice," Spock chided softly. More softly still, he said: "It seems unlikely Jim has 'taken leave of his senses.' If it will ease your concern, however, I will speak with him."

"Would you?" McCoy asked. "It'd be a load off my mind if you could tell me I'm just conjurin' up demons where none exist."

Spock sighed. "Of course, Doctor. I will speak to him this evening."

It was McCoy's turn to sigh. The Vulcan would know if something was wrong. "Thanks, Spock. I guess I'll go back down and keep an eye on him 'til then."

Spock watched him go, his own expression darkening. Though seldom spoken of, McCoy knew of the mental link he shared with the captain. Through the link Spock had sensed Kirk's troubled sleep. He'd shielded the awareness -- one must not eavesdrop on another's privacy -- but the disturbance had been there.

Now it seemed there was more to it than the uneasy romantic attraction Spock had surmised. He found the idea of Jim obsessed with the long-dead Eni-Tsuj difficult to credit. McCoy, however was the expert in this area. Moreover, statistics showed his diagnoses correct so much of the time as to be what Kirk termed "a sure thing."

Questions remained, however. What was disturbing Jim? How could he broach the problem without crossing the invisible line that existed between even the closest of t'hy'la?

Appreciating the privacy of the isolated table, Spock steepled his fingers, blanked his mind and carefully sought out the mental "white noise" that was the link between himself and Jim Kirk.

* * *

"What do you think you're doing?"

Kirk turned, his daze pierced by the angry voice.

"Well?" Bennings demanded.

McCoy stood at her side, uncertain which horrified him more -- the destruction Kirk had wrought or the odd, glassiness of his eyes.

Kirk returned their gazes, unblinking. "The wall must come down. "

"Are you mad?" Bennings blazed. "This is an archeological excavation, sanctioned by the planetary government of Stenos, and you, a starship commander with no archeological experience are telling me a wall has to come down? You have some nerve, mister. Get the hell out of here and don't come back again!"

"You don't understand. The wall must come down. Eni-Tsuj and E'jm must be reunited." Kirk turned back to the hole he'd made and inserted the chisel again.

Bennings grabbed his arm. "Listen, mister. You get out of here now or you're never going to hear the end of this."

At once McCoy was at his other side, speaking softly, as though to a child. "Come on, Jim. Let's go back to the ship."

"Bones, the wall has to come down," Kirk pleaded. "Eni-Tsuj and E'jm must be reunited."

Though relieved to find Kirk recognized him, McCoy was none the less concerned. "Jim, no one knows where this E'jm is buried. He might be a hundred miles from here--"

Kirk pulled away, his eyes wild. "No. Eni-Tsuj knows. E'jm is beyond this wall. They must be reunited."

"Doctor Bennings will take care of it, Jim. She knows how to d6 it the right way . You have to come back to the ship. Spock needs you. That, uh ... that computer glitch he was working on, he found the problem, but he can't fix it without you."

"The wall. It has to come down..." Kirk said dully.

"It will. Doctor Bennings will see to it," McCoy assured. With his eyes, he beseeched the archeologist not to contradict him. "C'mon now. Let's go outside and arrange beam-up."

* * *

"What happened?" Spock demanded. The harsh edge to his voice belied the gentleness with which he relieved McCoy of the unconscious captain and placed him on a gurney from the transporter room emergency locker.

"He passed out," McCoy answered grimly. "Could be the heat." With the sureness born of long experience, he gave the gurney a shove, guiding it into the corridor and toward the turbolift.

Spock took up a position at the other side. Vaguely, McCoy noted the Vulcan's pallor. He had been working round the clock for the last two days, sorting out the computer problem. McCoy regretted the additional strain Kirk's collapse would place him under.

"You on duty?"

Spock nodded.

"There's nothing you can do for him right now. You might as well go back to the bridge. I'll let you know as soon as he comes around..."

An hour passed. Spock resisted the urge to fidget in the command chair. His shift was nearly over, the computer problem isolated and corrected. In another three point five four minutes, he would be free...

"Call from Doctor McCoy, Mister Spock." Uhura listened intently for a moment then turned, a relieved expression on her lovely features. "He says the captain is resting comfortably and that he'll meet you at your quarters in five minutes if that's agreeable--"

Spock was on his feet before the comm officer finished speaking. "Tel! him I'm on my way, Lieutenant."

"Aye, sir." Uhura watched Spock's slender back disappear into the turbo lift before turning to meet the dark eyes of Sulu and Chekov. They had all been worried about the captain.

* * *

"And that's the story, Spock."

Surreptitiously, McCoy swiped at a bead of sweat. The thermostat was set at what Spock considered a "comfortable" level. McCoy figured it was about the same temperature as Lucifer enjoyed in hell.

"Physically, he checks out, but..."

"You said heat caused the collapse, Doctor." Spock's voice remained level, but there was an icy quality to it.

"I couldn't very well go into details in the transporter room. Besides, it probably was the heat that made him pass out. Good thing, too... I was gonna slip him a mickey... Uh, you know, give him something to knock him out."

"Indeed. "

Sensing disapproval, McCoy felt compelled to explain. "Not that I believe in the indiscriminate use of drugs, but I was damned if I knew how I was going to get him to submit to an exam."

Spock made a wordless sound of comprehension. "I would like to see him."

Relieved to escape the heat, McCoy led the way. "Of course, Spock. That's why I'm here. I just wanted to let you know the situation before you went in there."

The two men were silent during the short trip, each caught up in his own thoughts.

"Doctor McCoy!" Chris Chapel hurried toward them as they entered Sickbay, her cheeks flushed. "Did you release the Captain?"

McCoy stared at his head nurse. "What are you talking about, Chris?"

"Captain Kirk isn't in his bed." The blond nurse tucked a loose wisp of hair behind her ear. "I thought perhaps you'd sent him to his quarters."

"Like hell I did!" McCoy rushed toward the cubicle where he'd left Kirk. "Are you sure he's gone? Maybe he had to use the head... "

Chapel aimed a reproving look at the CMO's back as she hurried to catch up. "I already checked, Doctor."

"No doubt the captain has returned to the surface," Spock said calmly.

McCoy and Chapel stopped in their tracks, startled by the Vulcan's conviction.

"Given the sequence of events you relayed to me, Doctor, it is the logical answer."

McCoy considered for a moment. "You're probably right, but--"

Perceiving McCoy's hesitation, Spock said, "We will of course ascertain that the captain is not aboard before alerting anyone else."

* * *

"E'jm."

Kirk followed the voice of his princess, oblivious to the sounds of the workers in other areas of the tomb. He yearned to hold her again, to touch his lips to hers, to be one with her again.

"This way, E'jm. They will not bother us if we go this way."

The deeper they went into the underground complex, the more substance Eni-Tsuj gathered. Kirk could see her clearly now, could discern the curves of her body under the gauze-like drapes she wore. The tiny beads of gold and crystal threaded through her hair shimmered in the light of the torch he carried, creating a halo around her head.

The deeper they went, too, the less real seemed that other world in the sky. It was hard to recall the men and women he'd called his crew, harder to recall the two special men he'd called friends, hardest to recall the man he'd been. Here, there was no Captain James T. Kirk. He was E'jm, consort of the Princess Eni-Tsuj and leader of her armies.

"This way, Elm. Follow me, my love. We will be together forever."

"Forever," Kirk repeated. He never heard the ominous creaking of the timber supports the archeologists had installed in the corridors, never knew where the draft came from that extinguished his torch, never noticed when he lost consciousness.

* * *

Pain stabbed at his head. He swayed as he reached for the communicator. Blood leached from his skin leaving it cold and clammy.

"Spock!" McCoy grabbed the Vulcan's elbow. Chapel caught his other arm, supporting him between them.

"There's been a cave-in at the tomb," Uhura's voice reported tersely from the wall comm. "At least fifteen persons are trapped. Doctor Bennings requests any assistance we can provide."

Spock drew a ragged breath and, calling upon Vulcan disciplines, gently extricated himself from the Humans' supporting hands. Despite a faint catch in his voice, he spoke calmly into the grid.

"Of course, Lieutenant. First priority will be to ascertain the locations of the archeological teams. Have Mister Chekov begin scanning--"

"Sir, the Stenosians--"

McCoy stared, comprehension clicking into place. "Spock," he rasped, "It's Jim. He's down there, and he's hurt. Thar's what caused--"

"--won't permit the use of scanners," Uhura reminded him.

Spock flashed a warning look in the doctor's direction. Speaking again into the communicator, he said, "Inform Doctor Bennings and the Stenosian authorities that I will be beaming down to the site immediately. Have Mister Chekov stand by. Doctor McCoy is assembling an emergency medical team and will accompany me to the surface. Alert Mister Scott that we will require an engineering detail as well. Spock out."

"Spock, you're not up to this," the doctor fretted, studying the Vulcan closely. "You can barely stand. You're the color of chalk. Send someone else."

"Doctor, you have your orders. I intend to transport down in five point three five minutes." The Vulcan's voice was firm though he had to struggle to swallow down the nausea that had followed on the heels of the sudden headache. "Can you be ready?"

"Of course I can be ready! Paramedics are already gathering in the transporter rooms. It's that immediate alert system we instituted. But--"

Sidestepping the impassioned speech he knew was to come, Spock said, "Then I suggest we adjourn to Stenos, Doctor. The captain requires our assistance."

* * *

"E'jm. E'jm..."

The voice in the dark came from a distance greater than mere space. Gossamer fingers touched his brow.

"E'jm."

Absently, Kirk noted the soft distinctive accent, the almost silent first vowel. From somewhere came the sounds of other voices, muted but discernible.

"E'jm, you must awaken. It is not safe to remain here. The tunnel will collapse."

"The others..." he said, struggling not to choke on the dryness of his throat.

"They are merely workers."

Despite the pounding in his head, Kirk knew Eni-Tsuj was referring to workers who had lived over two thousand years ago. Had there been a collapse then, too? Did that explain why Eni-Tsuj and E'jm had been buried separately?

Another part of him, an almost forgotten part, knew the voices belonged to the archeological teams working on the excavation, knew the hand stroking his head was -- what? A hallucination? Delusion? Some sort of spectral resonance?

"They will die," Eni-Tsuj said calmly. "It is their fate. You will die too if you remain here."

"Yes." Kirk responded, attempting to sort out the real from/the imagined. "Yes..." Cautiously, he felt around, trying to discover the ceiling. Finding only emptiness above his head, he sat up slowly. "The torch..."

His light-starved eyes quickly picked out a faint glow, little more than a spark. It died even as he reached for it.

"This way, E'jm."

Again that feeling of something touching him, taking his hand. A shiver passed through him that wasn't caused by the ambient coolness of the tomb.

"There is a passageway."

Real or imagined, Kirk followed, knowing that whatever else existed in this situation, death was concrete.

"Bend low, E'jm. This is the passageway. It will lead us to the outside. We must hurry... "

* * *

"Spock ... Spock?" McCoy glanced at the Vulcan. Seeing the glazed look in his eyes, the abstracted, elsewhere-directed gaze, he jabbed him lightly with his elbow. "Spock, you're in command," he reminded him. "Everyone is waiting for you to give the orders."

The Vulcan forced his attention on the scene before him. "Of course. Medics will set up triage here at the entrance to the dig. Engineering detail is to take its orders directly from Mister Scott."

There was a moment of silence while the Enterprise officers waited for further orders.

Seeing that they were not forthcoming, McCoy stepped in. "Nurse Chapel, see to that triage station. Severe injuries can be beamed to the ship. We'll gladly take care of any Stenosians who need assistance unless they prefer to see their own doctors here on the planet. In that case Doctor Bennings can probably help you. Scotty..."

"Aye," said the engineer with a nod. He ran a quick eye over the protective clothing worn by his assistants. "With me, lads and lassies. Let's see how bad the problem is."

As the various Enterprise personnel went efficiently about their duties, McCoy watched the preoccupied look seep back into the first officer's face. Spock turned slowly, reminding McCoy of the antique compass Jim kept in his quarters, its needle seeking north.

He pitched his voice just loud enough for Vulcan ears to discern. "Can you sense him, Spock? Is he..."

"He is alive. Of that much I am certain."

"And?"

"He is injured, though not severely."

"That's what you felt on the Enterprise?" McCoy surmised.

"Correct. I believe he suffered a blow to the head. A short period of unconsciousness followed."

"What about now?" McCoy prodded.

"He is conscious..."

"Can you use the bond? Track him through it?"

Spock rounded on him. "I am not a bloodhound, Doc--" Seeing McCoy recoil, he paused. "My apologies. It is illogical to vent my frustration on you."

"That's okay, Spock." The doctor refrained from pointing out that frustration itself was illogical. "It's those Human factors in that green blood of yours. They're bound to show up once in a while."

"Indeed." Spock said, his eyes once again losing focus as he went somewhere McCoy could not follow. "They are most inconvenient. I shall attempt to keep them under control."

McCoy nodded and waited quietly, knowing that in spite of his outburst, the Vulcan was attempting to track Kirk.

Watching him, McCoy realized that whatever the precise nature of the link between Spock and the captain, it was Spock who was paying the piper right now. His skin gave new meaning to the word "pallor," his eyes seemed to have sunk into his skull.

Finally, unable to stand it any longer, he said, "So... How about it?"

Spock started. He remained silent a moment longer before saying, "As I said, Jim is alive. However, there is some sort of interference which I cannot breach. It is preventing me from ascertaining his location."

"I see," McCoy murmured, then, "What now?"

* * *

"Sir--"

Only one who knew the Vulcan as well as McCoy would hear the hote of exasperation in his voice. Only one who knew him as well as McCoy could read the strain in his eyes or see the tension in his shoulders. But his color was better, and his eyes no longer looked like holes bored with a phaser drill. Wonderful, the doctor thought, what a hypo-full of tri-ox can do.

"I respect the beliefs of your people," Spock repeated.

By McCoy's estimate, this was at least the tenth time Spock had said it. From the expressions on the Stenosian officials' faces, the protestation had as little impact now as it had the first time.

"However," Spock continued, "fifteen lives depend on our quick action. Too much time has been wasted. You have my word, the Enterprise's scanners will cause no harm to the spirits who have gone to the world beyond the world."

"Commander Spock," said one the officials, a sort of priest/governor, if McCoy understood the position correctly. "This is holy ground. You cannot desecrate it with your technological wonders. We simply will not permit it."

"Stenos is new to the Federation," Spock reminded him, a hard note creeping into his voice. "Its status as a member planet is shaky. Should Captain Kirk and the archeological team perish due to your restrictions, that status could come under review."

His face unusually grim, the Vulcan stared across the table into the pale eyes of the priest. What he was about to say came close to blackmail. It was cold comfort that Jim would not hesitate to use it, were the situation reversed.

"Given the high regard in which Captain Kirk is held, there is a very good chance the outcome of that review would not be in Stenos favor. Are you so eager to lose the benefits of Federation membership?"

"Commander Spock--"

Flipping open his communicator, Spock gave the order to commence scanning, tuning out both the Stenosian's platitudes and McCoy's muttered, "You tell 'em, Spock!"

* * *

His throat was parched. Oxygen was becoming a luxury. The voices were closer now, though still damped by earthen walls. E'jm/Kirk knew he must find the archeological team before the air ran out. "Eni-Tsuj, we must help the workers."

"The workers are of no consequence, E'Jm. You know this."

There was no change of tone, no feeling of intentional cruelty. The very lack of malicious intent chilled Kirk, revealing with painful clarity a kind of subjugation he'd only read of in history books, though Stratos City on Ardana had come close.

Still fighting the confusing sense of dissociation, he said, "They are our people, Eni-Tsuj. Can you allow them to die here, frightened and alone?"

"It is their place to die as their ruler decrees. They are only gelos -- mine to do with as I wish."

Gelos... Somehow, Kirk knew the word translated as slaves, less than peasants, animals. How could he alter this mindset?

The words came to him as though from another world, another time, another mind. "What of little E-Nalan? Would you have her die here? You took her from a gelos home."

"Have you turned rebel, E'Jm?"

Uncertain whether it was a figment of his imagination, Kirk thought he sensed a frown forming on Eni-Tsuj's aristocratic features.

"E-Nalan is a servant, a pretty child. It is my right to do with her what I wish."

"Of course, Eni-Tsuj, my princess, however..."

Dimly, an idea trickled through his confused mind. "The rebels are gaining strength, my love. If we rescue the workers, they will be appeased. You will be hailed as a great ruler. We will have achieved victory with no expenditure of life or materials."

"There is some truth in what you say..."

* * *

"This kennot be," Chekov murmured, his face stained blue from the light of the hooded viewer.

Spock strode directly from the turbolift to the Science station. "What cannot be, Ensign?"

"There are no signs of life within the tomb, sair."

"There must be."

"Look for yourself..."

Unceremoniously, Spock pushed the ensign aside to peer into the viewer. Instantly, he confirmed the younger man's statement.

* * *

"The tunnel branches," someone gasped.

"Take the right turning," Kirk replied from the rear. He didn't bother questioning how he knew there were three choices. Eni-Tsuj knew. Eni-Tsuj would see them out. She'd promised. As had he.

"It's blocked, sir."

"We can't get out this way. We'll have to turn back!"

"Dig through," Kirk instructed. "The other routes are impassable."

"How does he know?" muttered a disgruntled voice midway between Kirk and the head of the long caterpillar.

"The captain has his ways," a woman answered.

Kirk catalogued them by their responses. The first voice belonged to one of Bennings' civilian archeologists, the second a member of the Enterprise Archeology and Anthropology department.

"Probably had Mister Spock map this entire complex using the sensors the first day we were here," said another voice.

"That's sacrilege. The Stenosians said no scans of any sort."

"So... You want to stay here and die, or cheat and get out?"

Kirk didn't disabuse them of their assumptions. What could he say? That they were following the directions of a woman who had been dead for a couple of thousand years? That in the tradition of various fictitious heroes he was gambling his soul against their lives?

His breath came heavily now, his head aching dully where he'd been struck by the falling debris. Occasionally, a bit of earthen ceiling fell, tracing a path down his bare arm or chest. It didn't occur to him to question what had happened to his shirt, nor to wonder at the linen-like garment knotted around his hips. "Eni-Tsuj," he murmured, then, "Spock. Bones."

"Sir, are you okay?" called a voice from somewhere up ahead.

"I'll make it," Kirk replied. I'll make it, he repeated, fighting the urge to surrender to the caressing voice that whispered through his mind.

They crawled for what felt like miles through the black tunnel. The faint light of a single torch that had been coaxed to life was their only beacon. Kirk's fingers and knees felt like raw meat from being scraped along the earth/stone mixture that the tunnel was constructed of. He welcomed the discomfort, clutched at it, using it to maintain his fragile hold on reality.

"Another, branch, sir," called the leader, a member of the A&A team.

"Go left," Kirk panted. "There should be an incline."

"Feel it, sir-- Wait, there's a wall-- Sir, I think there's one of those doors like the one we used to get into the passageway."

"Break -- break it down," Kirk answered breathlessly.

"Aye, sir."

* * *

An air of tension pervaded the bridge like a bowstring stretched too tight, a phaser. building to overload.

Uhura looked up. "Mister Spock, I'm receiving a message from the surface..."

Spock moved to the communications officer's side, signaling her to continue.

"It's the engineering team, sir. They say they've reached the chamber where the archeologists were supposed to be working, but there is no one there..." Uhura paused, listening. "They've discovered a passageway leading out of the chamber... "

Spock whirled to face Chekov again. "Widen your scans, ensign. The captain is down there."

"Aye, sair..." Chekov applied himself to the sensors as though he could force them to reveal what the Vulcan wanted to see. After several agonizingly long moments, he said, "I em picking up a group of people moving through vhat appears to be a tunnel, sair. They are some distance from the tomb."

"Yes," Spock murmured, moving back to the science station. Chekov hastily abandoned the scanner to his more experienced manipulations.

"Yes," Spock repeated, following the tracery of lines that indicated a series of narrow tunnels and passageways. The majority were within the tomb itself or just outside its perimeter, but a few extended well beyond the confines of the archeological site. Of these, one distinctly showed life signs moving away from the tomb.

Quickly extrapolating, he turned to the communications officer. "Lieutenant Uhura, have Doctor McCoy and Mister Scott beamed to these coordinates. I will join them there immediately."

"Sir?" Uhura questioned, then as the Vulcan strode past her and into the lift, "Yes, sir."

* * *

E'jm/Kirk stared about the chamber in which they'd found themselves, the light of the single torch illuminating the sarcophagus on the raised bier. The pressure to climb the steps, to gaze upon the features of the single male occupant was almost palpable. He fought it. To do so would be to abandon all that he was.

The small, self-aware bit of his mind that was still James T. Kirk berated itself for the communicator left on the dresser in his quarters. His obsession -- if that was what it was -- had placed him in this position. Now it was up to him to get the others out.

"The way seems to be blocked, sir." The speaker wormed his way from the half-meter hole they'd dug using their bare hands.

"They'll be looking for us, won't they?" queried a soft voice from somewhere in the dusky recesses of the tomb.

Lowering himself to the floor, Kirk said, "Of ... course. The Enterprise will be scanning for us. It won't be long... I suggest you make yourselves comfortable."

A gentle chorus of affirmatives met his words, then the sound of cloth against earth and stone as the others complied. Kirk closed his eyes, hoping he was correct, hoping Spock could make the Stenosians drop their restriction long enough to find them and get them out of here before the air ran out. As for himself...

"E'jm."

His own danger was more immediate, yet more tenuous. Eni-Tsuj was here, lurking, waiting to claim him for her own. Could the others see her, hear her, feel her presence?

"E'Jm..."

Resolutely, Kirk shut the voice out.

"E'jm. Come to me."

With every passing second, the voice grew stronger, drawing him away from the present. He wanted to go, yearned to go, but-- "Not yet, Eni-Tsuj. Not yet..."

Dusty air tingled with unseen vibrations; the tang of ozone stung dry nostrils. Coruscating light coalesced into living beings. A soft cheer filled the ancient tomb.

"Is everyone all right?" called McCoy's voice as he peered into the darkness.

"Fine, Doctor, now that we know we're getting out of here," responded one of the Enterprise A&A team.

"Great," McCoy replied, aiming his medical tricorder this way and that. "We're beaming you all directly to the Enterprise, so if you'd kindly sort yourselves into groups of six..."

"Jim?"

Kirk gazed into the worried eyes of his first officer as he crouched before him. He could feel Eni- Tsuj' s vaporous arms, holding him tight, her breasts pressed against his bare back.

"E'jm..."

"It is time to return to the ship, sir." Spock's voice was soft, unthreatening.

More than anything Kirk wanted to comply with that gentle command. He opened his mouth, but the words that came out weren't those he'd intended. "I can't, Spock. Eni-Tsuj won't let me."

"Captain," Spock admonished.

"Recall your promise, E'jm," Eni-Tsuj murmured in Kirk's ear. "You must stay with me."

Half-paralyzed, he said, "She ... wants me ... here, Spock... I promised..."

"That is impossible," Spock said, struggling to hide the irrational fear that sought to overwhelm him. He held out his hand to assist Kirk to stand. "This is not your place. You must return to the Enterprise," he urged, invoking the name of the ship he knew Kirk would never give up willingly.

Kirk pushed himself jerkily to his feet, feeling like a puppet in need of repair. He reached for the extended hand, grasped it, took a step, faltered. "I can't."

Spock gripped his captain's hand with both of his own, straining to pull Kirk to him, but to no effect. It was as though an invisible restraining field held him tethered in place.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Kirk's gold command shirt faded out of existence to be replaced by smooth, tanned skin; uniform pants metamorphosed into creamy linen wrapped about muscular loins. Fleet issue boots became soft leather sandals. A pair of slender, feminine arms encircled Kirk's waist, a woman's face nestled in the hollow of his shoulder. The two of them were surrounded, encompassed, by a warm golden light.

Spock stared, unable to take his eyes from the man before him, the man he knew so well, transformed into the image of a Stenosian prince-consort, a veritable god to the people of ancient Stenos.

This cannot be, he thought. What I think I see does not exist. It is illusion. Logic dispels illusion.

He blinked, looked again.

Determined eyes peered at him from the delicately-boned face resting on Kirk's shoulder. "E'jm is mine."

When you have eliminated the impossible, that which is remains, no matter how improbable... Skin tingling where it entered the nimbus of light, Spock tightened his grasp on his captain's hands, "Jim," he pressed, investing the single syllable with all of his unspoken feelings.

"You cannot have him," the woman said in unyielding tones.

Kirk was weakening, Spock could feel it through their touch. He redoubled his strength, pulling, falling, warring mentally as well as physically for the soul of his t'hy'la. "Jim, you must come. The Enterprise needs you. I need you. Please..."

The golden light surrounding Kirk and the woman flickered, flared bright, flickered again, then suddenly faded.

As though in counterpoint, Spock sensed Kirk's lifeforce fluctuating, drawing on his own through the link. At the very instant the golden light flickered out completely, Kirk shot forward to collapse at his feet.

"E'jmmm!" Eni-Tsuj shrieked, her beautiful features contorting.

Swiftly, the Vulcan scooped the captain up and strode to the center of the tomb where McCoy had assembled the last three archeologists.

"Beam us up, now, Doctor," Spock said tersely.

McCoy relayed the message. Almost at once Spock felt the tingle of the transporter beam scanning his body.

From the darkness a slender figure reached out imploringly to the semi-conscious form in his arms. "E'jm..."

"Eni-Tsuj," Kirk answered, his voice midway between a whisper and a moan.

The light-jewels of the transporter engulfed them and they winked out of existence.

* * *

Striving for an air of informality, Leonard McCoy strolled to the science station. There was nothing casual, however, in the gaze he locked on Kirk as he claimed his place in the center seat.

"Captain, we're receiving a message from Doctor Bennings."

"Put her on screen, Lieutenant," Kirk said quietly.

The image on the main viewer wavered then shifted from one of a typical class M planet revolving placidly in space to that of the archeologist's tired features.

"Captain Kirk. The Stenosians have decided to discontinue the excavation. Recent events have made them more than a little uncomfortable. We're closing up shop now. We'll probably be boarding a transport in a few days. The mummies -- uh, Eni-Tsuj and E'jm, were placed together in the lower chamber. It probably wasn't intended for a royal burial but..." Bennings allowed her voice to trail off. With a slight lift of her shoulders, she added, "I thought you'd like to know. "

Kirk nodded slowly. "Thank you, Doctor. I appreciate your thoughtfulness."

McCoy leaned against the library computer console, his fingers wrapped under its edge. Keeping his voice low, he asked, "You mind tellin' me exactly what happened down there? Jim isn't talkin', and..."

The Vulcan looked up from his own contemplation of the captain. He was uncertain how much McCoy had seen, how much he'd divined, how much he'd guessed. "It is difficult to say, exactly, Doctor."

"But," McCoy prodded.

"But--" Spock let his breath out softly. He paused, listening as the captain issued an order to the helm. "It is good you did not permit him to attend the re-interment of Eni-Tsuj and E'jm."

"So you do believe in ghosts," McCoy commented.

Spock's brow rose. "Ghosts are a romantic invention. The spirit, however, is another thing. Terrans believe in the existence of an immortal soul. Klingons, also. The existence of the Vulcan katra is unquest--"

"Think that thing has a limited range?" McCoy interrupted.

Spock opened his mouth, closed it, considered for a moment, then said slowly, "I hope so, Doctor. I sincerely hope so."

McCoy studied the back of the captain's head. "Me too, Spock."

THE END